Who’s responsible for school morale?

School morale – the ambiance and atmosphere that permeates a building when you enter. It’s reflected in the way the students greet one another and how teachers interact with the students, teachers and parents. It’s part of how visitors feel when they enter the building and staff feel when they exit on Friday afternoon. It consists of thousands of interactions and reactions between individuals as they spend their days together. It’s elusive but tangible. You know when the morale in a building is good and when it isn’t.

It’s been my pleasure to work in a number of schools with great morale. They were places where, no matter what was happening or what was coming at the teachers, they looked to the positive, and to each other, to work towards creating a great school. It was our desire to do the best we could for our students, working and sharing our school lives, that helped us to live, love and laugh. Each of these staffs suffered through tragedies but we supported and helped one another.

At present, as an educational leader, I can see that the school where I am is not what it could be. There is a tenseness in the air – a sense of foreboding, almost like people are giving in to the pressures that surround them. It was brought to me that, ultimately, the morale of the school is my responsibility (and fault if it is negative). Now, as educational leader, I see that I have a part in creating the atmosphere in the school but am I solely responsible? If so, what are ways of looking to improve the morale of the people in the building? If not, what suggestions do you have for looking at the problem and coming up with a solution? Any feedback is very welcome.

13 Comments

  1. Reply

    It’s a little hard to give specific advice without knowing things going on in a particular building.

    But as an “ear to the ground” person in my own school–tends to happen at ours when people have too many competing demands and are exhausted; when change is happening too fast; when people don’t feel a sense of appreciation for some reason; and basically when they are really in need of some together time–relaxing, together time where they can reconnect with each other.

    How about breakfast tacos for everyone, a faculty meeting that is just a get together, a meeting with some folks to see what’s going on, weekly drawings for restaurant gift certificates(donated), notes of appreciation, or anything that finds ways to regather, laugh, redefine the mission.

    These are small suggestions but this is the time of year where it seems like everyone is working on their own mission and it’s easy to lose sight of the collective goal, and even just to lose site of fun.

  2. Reply

    Interesting question without a simple solution. I have noticed that morale will fluctuate depending on a number different factors such as length of time before/after a break, the weather, or what is coming up on the horizon. Most interesting though is that morale seems to vary depending on the topic of discussion and who holds the power. Our discussions around our own School Improvement Plan are much different than discussions on issues that come from Central office. The morale is significantly more negative toward our school division than in the school itself. So while I do feel that the school leadership team has a large responsibility for enhancing or protecting the morale of the staff, they cannot shoulder the entire responsibility themselves.

  3. Reply

    While I agree that no one individual has sole responsibility for morale, the leader has a key responsibility in setting the tone. Can you assess what was different in schools where morale was good? I might guess it was where everyone was rowing to the same goal and was supported in their work – student learning and achievement was celebrated. So what’s different now? What are the barriers your teachers are facing? Do they have the kind of individual support they need? Do they understand what is expected of them and why? Does the whole school celebrate its successes? Are parents part of the celebration?
    Downward spirals are just that. When morale starts to slide it can be a feeding frenzy. I would look for small bright spots and build on them. Look for others who have a positive outlook and put them in situations where they are the role model. Put students at the centre of the successes.
    Just some thoughts that you may find helpful in your thinking.
    Cindy

  4. Reply

    Make your staff feel like partners in learning. Solicit their opinions, give choices whenever possible, celebrate their classroom successes and make them believe that they are valued members of a team.

  5. Reply

    I think there is a simple solution. In my experience the principal is the number one, most important factor in determining the climate and culture of the building. Absolutely been my experience. In this determination of climate lies the most powerful and rewarding part of being a building level administrator. You’re not solely responsible but I believe from experience that you definitely set the pace and influence more than anyone else.

  6. Dave H

    Reply

    I agree the principal is extremely important when it comes to climate and culture but I also feel staff have a huge role to play as well. I rely on a few staff members to help me understand what needs of staff and students aren’t being met. I agree with Diane in that staff should feel their ideas and opinions count. I look for chances to let staff members lead. Further, I am constantly inspired by group decisions made by students. When ever you involve classrooms, student groups or student leaders in a decision the outcomes are usually filled with common sense and compromise. Students do enjoy being involved in decisions that affect them.

  7. Reply

    Kelly,
    I have been pondering this because there was something elusive I couldn’t quite get. Morale is an element that is intangible but essential in making the school a successful place. I think the concept of family is the key. The best leaders I worked for valued their own family time and in turn respected their staff’s needs in this regard. Yes, it is a work environment but the best companies also try to incorporate family-friendly policies. Treat the staff as if they are in this together. There was also no use of the pronouns “I” or “you” at staff meetings- it was “We” and it was sincere. I miss those days.

  8. Reply

    Kelly – the responsibility sits right in the chair that I’m writing this from and if you’re at work the chair you’re reading this from. I’m failing miserably at it. Hope your rocking the house.

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  10. fauzia azami zubair

    Reply

    Over thirty years in the world of education and three major schools impacted. I learned very quickly that morale and ethos were powerful tools and they were in my control, as Principal. It was clear that if I set a positive tone, it boomeranged all over the place, touched every teacher, student and staff member. If I set a negative tone, it impacted everyone again. It was an early, conscious decision to throw every negative thought out the window and turn every disadvantage or failure into an opportunity or a challenge. My motto became “if one of us succeeds, we all do” and the celebration became endless. I became the sponge, absorbing all that was depressing and negative for the simple reason that I wanted every single person coming to school eagerly and leaving with a light heart so that the goodwill went into their homes as well. It worked. The achievements of teachers and students were publicly celebrated and applause was a common sound at morning assembly.The day started off well and even if there were thorny issues that raised their ugly heads they were confined to the four walls of the Principal’s office. I had a positive school wherever I went, and was often told that. What a joy that was and what satisfaction it gives me now.

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